Friday, April 03, 2009

True reconciliation is powerful stuff

Tonight at SAA Church: Stations of the Cross, 7 pm, with Eucharistic Adoration to follow. Please join us!!
A blogger posted a question earlier this week that I would also like to present to SAA bloggers: why do you think that the Penance Service this past Monday night was attended by so few people? I didn’t count how many people, but my guess is there were less than twenty. We’ve had much larger turnouts at other Penance Services the past three years (we had over 100 people a couple of years ago). Now, there were other things going on Monday night (e.g., Bible Study, Maryland women’s basketball game), but I don’t think that would have affected the vast majority of our parishioners.

A couple of people have suggested that it’s because St. Andrew’s offers so many other times for Confession on a regular basis. That might enter into it, but I don’t think it played a big role in the small turnout Monday night. And, my take on all of this is the more that Confession is preached and offered in a parish, the more people will come to the sacrament. In other words, it’s a cultural thing. I’ve seen the culture change with regard to this sacrament here, thanks be to God. Many people have returned to the sacrament after being away for many years and others who had been going infrequently have been going more often. And, I would imagine that people in both groups have been leading others to come to the sacrament. This is how it works (i.e., how the kingdom spreads) and it’s an awesome thing to witness!

Some people who came Monday night were themselves surprised at the low turnout; one person deliberately came late, trying to avoid the “big crowd” he (or she) said that he expected. Now, I am grateful for those who came and for the opportunities that arose with them. And, this is not about “numbers”; it is about people responding to God’s call to reconcile with Him and the Church through Confession. The most important thing is that people go, and hopefully before Easter. Confession helps us to give our whole heart to Christ (our goal for Lent) and to enter more fully into the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ).

So, SAA bloggers, was it just that Monday was a tough night for most people? Or, was it that they didn’t know about the Service? Or, was it something else? I appreciate your input.

Speaking of Reconciliation, here is a recent question (series of questions):

“If a person close to you…won't go to Confession, how is it that Jesus forgives them, or does He? …how do we forgive them? What does one do when the closest admission to the sin consists of, "C'mon, cut me a break, I'm human and I'm doing the best I can."? Do we forgive with the hope that they'll change? Or, do we sin through forgiveness which allows or enables the behavior to continue?

Anon, you can check out my post, “Why Forgive?”, on 8/22/08 which is related to your questions. A person has to ask God for forgiveness in order to reconcile with and be forgiven by Him. He is Mercy, so He is always offering mercy. God cannot not forgive. He cannot not offer forgiveness. He always offers forgiveness, but it’s up to us to receive His forgiveness. It’s like that way with the Eucharist (or any gift): God is constantly offering the gift of the Eucharist, but it’s up to us to receive it. The person who doesn’t come to Mass doesn’t receive the Eucharist. So, too, the person who doesn’t come to Confession doesn’t receive God’s forgiveness (for mortal sins; he/she can receive God’s forgiveness for venial sins outside of Confession, but they still need to ask for it…through Act of Contrition, receiving the Eucharist, etc.).

We are called to be Christ-like in this way – to always offer mercy (e.g., forgive “seventy-times seven times) to others. We are called to always offer forgiveness. If someone sins against us and won’t apologize, then forgiveness remains in our hearts only. If they ask us for mercy in any way (no matter how small), then we should forgive them. However, if their apology remains in the “half-hearted” category, then we might want to gently challenge them to say, “I’m sorry” or “please forgive me”. These are very important words for true reconciliation. This is not to humble them as much as it is to make clear that they are asking for forgiveness. If they can’t explicitly ask for forgiveness, then we can’t explicitly forgive them (only our hearts).

Finally, we forgive others who have implicitly or explicitly expressed an intention of changing their sinful behavior. If someone asks for forgiveness but has no intention of changing, then we need to make clear to them that they we can’t forgive them (it is also true in Confession that we need to make a “firm purpose of amendment” in order to receive absolution). It’s not true reconciliation without an intention of amendment (it’s like a house built on sand…no real foundation there).

If they do intend to change, then we forgive them. Will they change? We can’t know at the time of reconciliation. But, we give it a chance because we know that true reconciliation is powerful stuff, indeed. There is grace at work there that can help a person, in time, move away from their sin (“where sin abounds, grace abounds the more”).


At 3:46 PM, Blogger fran said...

"The most important thing is that people go, and hopefully before Easter."

See, if I had gone to the Penance Service, nearly 2 weeks before Easter, I would have only had to go to Confession again!

Seriously... I think people make the time for those things which are important to them, or which they are able to do. I am not saying that people are just casually shrugging things off, especially something as important as Confession,( and from the lines that some speak of at other times, I do think it is taken quite seriously ) but there are many things which families juggle on a daily basis. A late arrival home, my alter plans, an after school activity which pushes homework back, a sports practice, music lessons, etc. These might seem like excuses, but they are honest-to-goodness legitimate reasons/conflicts, I think.

Also, on a more 'close to home' level, many parishioners do not live in close proximity to St. A's. Again, it is all in the scheduling and one's priorities, I do acknowledge that, but if you look at it realistically, once a family is home and everybody is off the road, getting back in the car for an evening event, 20 minutes to half an hour away, on a school night is sometimes daunting. Again, not meant to be an excuse, but perhaps a reasonable explanation.

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In responding to the "Why forgive?"-

In a book that was suggested reading during Lent, Fr. Groeschel wrote something about forgiveness that made sense (to me, anyway). He said that the sincere decision to forgive is only a beginning but experiencing real inner forgiveness is a spiritual process that may take years.

I read that and was like, “Thank you!" 'Cause it's been a struggle to forgive certain people and their actions.

He gave some practical steps in that process-
1. Analyze the motives of those who have hurt us (consider all the possibilities)
2. Consider their personal histories (where they came from, their spiritual formation)
3. Ask ourselves what we may have done in their place

Another piece of advice I’d like to add came via our own FG. He suggested I consider my offender in the same way I’d consider my own children’s wrong doings. When my child transgresses, I don’t beat them over the head with their sin. I really, honestly and truly WANT to forgive them. The only time, with my kids, that I withhold trust is when it has been broken and needs to be re-established for THEIR sake rather than my own protection.

Both of these men’s ways of thinking have helped me tremendously with forgiving.

At 5:32 PM, Blogger fran said...

I just phoned a family member who lives in a neighboring parish and asked how their Penance Service turnout was, last week.

She said that it was a much smaller turnout (roughly 60 to 70) than the Advent Penance Service, but attributes this to, and I quote, "They offer Confession so frequently right now, after Stations, before daily Mass and on the weekend, that I think people are going then."

So maybe that is the answer afterall - "...the more it is offered in a parish, the more people will come to the sacrament." Just not all at one time.

At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a fear of going to confession. Should you go to confession if you only have venial sins?? I have found from experience that going to confession once a month helps me to feel closer to our Lord and helps keep more serious sins under control. I heard an interesting exam of conscience, in addition to the Ten Commandments, 1Corinthians 13:4-7 (used sometimes at weddings.) Put your name in the place of love....Blank is always patient and kind; is never jealous...OPPS. I still have a fear of just confessing venial sins or going to confession for anything. And I am due.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger fran said...

Last night at Adoration, I also happened to be reading from Benedict Groeschel's Meditations on the Passion and Glory of Christ.

Part of the daily meditation, for the Friday of the 5th week of Lent, touched on Adoration and I thought it exquisitely beautiful.

I will share it here, so that perhaps others may reflect on it the next time they are in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

"Adoration is awesome when it is offered to God, to the mysterious Holy Trinity. Can we kneel in our imagination before the figure of a mortal man like ourselves - someone who could get tired and annoyed, who could be compassionate and who could argue? Can you adore a human being? That's what our Christian religion is about. Think of the apostles when Christ met them in the upper room after the Resurrection. They saw earth and heaven, time an eternity, man and God, all at once, and they worshipped him: My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28)

Take some time. Be quiet for half an hour or so. Pull all your attention together, and see Him before the eyes of your mind on the roads of Galilee, on the Cross, or standing by the empty tomb. Pray in a way that you have never prayed before. Come, let us adore Him in silence."

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the low turnout was probably a combination of both...offered and encouraged more frequently in the parish now, and also the word may not have gotten out well enough for the Penance Service. I know I was only aware of it discussed once, on Sunday prior, but that could have only been my experience. You and Father Mike are doing a really great job of encouraging use of the Sacrament routinely. I know some of us actually prefer confessing to a priest we don't know as well, so those services with visiting priests have been generally very well-attended!

At 10:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the anon of 3:34-

I had a conversation w/someone recently, who told me about how inconvenient it is for her to go to Confession, and I mentioned how often Confession is offered here. She responded, "But they'd both recognize my voice." Personally, that’s why I went to the Penance Service- an unknown priest.

At 11:06 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

Okay, I admit it- I read ahead in Fr. Groeschel's book to Palm Sunday. It was a long day w/lots of in-between time w/sports’ stuff, and I was bored!

Anyway, it was striking, the difference between Christ's birth and death. At birth, kings brought him great things of worldly value, but in death, humble people gave the only things they had to offer- twigs from a tree. It begs the question- do we give the best we have to offer- whether it's gold and things of worldly value or simpler (but significant) gifts of charity and hope? For the first time, rather than looking as those Palms a "free stuff," I see them as a challenge- do I give the best I have to give?

At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please pray for family friends, Dean and his fiance Linda. Dean has battling diabetes and is a critical state. Neither has ever been married, met only to years ago and are in their early 50's. Sometimes life doesn't see, too fair.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 11:18

I am sure your friends will receive the prayers of many who visit this site. I hope that they will be a source of comfort to you as well. Also, if you have not read Fr. Greg's homily for Palm Sunday, you should. It speaks to the 'unfairness' of life and how to look at it in a different way.

On a lighter note..

It is always interesting to read of people's discomfort, apprehensions and fear of Confession and the confessional, because I, too, was a 'behind the screen' confessor (confessee?) until this occurred, some 15 years ago.

We were new to St. Peter's parish and there was a young-ish truly dynamic priest there, who gave these wonderful homilies and really engaged the congregation. He had quite a following.

The confessionals at St. Peter's were similar to St. A's, only both sides were closed. The face-face option was in another part of the church, altogether. After entering one of the closed confessional booths, I knelt down and waited for the door on the priest's side to slide open, leaving me behind the screen. I was shocked when the entire door AND screen opened inward toward the priest, leaving me face-to face with him saying, "Hi, how 'ya doing?"

I thought maybe something had gone wrong with the door, and probably looked ridiculous, (although it was also kind of funny to see, literally, only the face of this man in the frame of that small door!) and said that I thought it wasn't going to be face to face. He said, "Just talk."

Needless to say, it was a conversation/confession that I will always remember. Not just for the incident of confessing unexpectedly face-to-face, but for a totally new experience which forever changed the way I think about confession. There are times when I am still nervous, but some of the best, life-changing conversations can take place in a confessional.

At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fran, I think that all I would have been able to say is:


At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually go behind the screen now except when I go to confession at my Spiritual Direction meeting. Mostly for the anonymity but also for the courage to confess everything including the most embarrassing of my sins which I have found harder to do face to face.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

I learned something today. When missionaries went to spread Christianity to the Eskimos, in sharing the Gospel with them, they realized there was no direct translation for the word “forgiveness.” They had to create a word (it’s long and funny sounding- I didn’t try to write down) that is actually made up of several words. In Eskimo, forgiveness literally translates to “not being able to think about it anymore.”


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